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50 Years and Counting: Two Little League Coaches Remain Focused on Fundamentals

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (March 16, 2005) – Hit the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball, and have fun doing it, are the fundamentals that Little League managers Andy Holmes and Al Duratti have taught for more than 50 years.

Mr. Holmes, 80, and Mr. Duratti, 70, are original members of the Swampscott (Mass.) Little League, which was first chartered in 1954.

“I love baseball, and I love kids,” Mr. Holmes, who has coached the Major Division Indians for 52 years, said.

“The kids may not be stars, but they play,” Mr. Duratti, who has coached the Little League Yankees since he was 19, said.

Both men were the first managers of their teams, and have worked in various league capacities. Each has spent time on the Swampscott board of directors, and Mr. Holmes has been president.

“These are good guys, who, at their core, enjoy helping to create a positive environment for kids,” Larry Zabar, Swampscott president, said. “They have given so much to the program, and their spirit transcends generations.”

Remembering back to when he was first introduced to the idea of Little League, Mr. Holmes said his wife, Betty, got him started by answering an ad in the local newspaper asking for coaches. Mr. Duratti was asked by his uncle to coach, and that’s how he became a Little League volunteer.

Each has won his fair share of regular season championships, and has done well in all-star tournament play, but like most Little League coaches and managers, neither has brought a team to Williamsport for the Little League Baseball World Series.

“I never got carried away with the winning aspect, because I always kept my perspective on what we were there for,” Mr. Duratti, who managed the Yankees to 59 wins in 60 games at one stretch in the late 1970s and early 80s, said.

“Being with the kids is the best,” Mr. Holmes said. “I thought Little League was wonderful when I began coaching, and it still is.”

Much has changed through the decades and both men admit that children today are different than generations ago. That doesn’t mean better, or worse, just different.

“Everyone understands how important Andy and Al are,” Mr. Zabar said. “They’re an institution in this community, because they bring more than fundamentals, they bring values.”

When he was 63, Mr. Holmes retired from General Electric after 36 years, while Mr. Duratti was 64 when he left his position as an industrial engineer following a 42-year career.

With both men at a crossroads and free to enjoy their retirement years, they have chosen to stay with Little League, and have shown no signs of slowing down.

“Al and I have shared a lot of experiences,” Mr. Holmes said. “I’m getting close to stepping aside, but as long as I can walk on a field, I’ll be fine and dandy.”

“As long as Andy is there, I’ll be there,” Mr. Duratti said. “When Andy quits I’ll go another year, just to kid him.”

There have been several highlights along with way. Team successes and individual friendships are too numerous to count, but both know they will be bonded together forever, and have Little League to thank for that.

In recognition of their enduring commitment, Swampscott Little League has honored both men several times, highlighted by the re-naming of the road to the league’s fields to Duratti-Holmes Way.

On April, 29, 2003, the duo threw ceremonial first pitches before a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

“That was a fantastic experience,” Holmes, a lifelong Red Sox fan, said.  “After all the fields I’ve been on, to step on that field was something else.”

Recently, both men, along with several Swampscott residents, got a chance to relish in Boston’s World Series triumph, when the Red Sox trophy tour made a stop in their town.

Several generations of players have passed through Swampscott Little League and now Mr. Holmes and Mr. Duratti are coaching the children of former players.

“It’s been a wonderful experience having the children of players who played for me,” Mr. Duratti said. “It’s been wave-like.”

The father of three daughters, Mr. Holmes never coached his children, while Mr. Duratti had three boys go through the program.

“The years have flown by, but being with the kids is the still the best,” Mr. Holmes said. “I have file drawers full of (newspaper) clippings, and when I finally do quit Little League, I’ll sit down and go through all of those papers.”

The Swampscott Little League services more than 850 children, ages 6 to16 in both baseball and softball.

“Both men have told me that when they can’t be role models and teach, then in fairness to the kids, they would step down,” Mr. Zabar said. “After all these years they still bring a passion for the game, the kids, and the league.”

Andy Holmes, middle, of the Swampscott (Mass.) Little League, holds the 2004 Major League Baseball World Series trophy won by the Boston Red Sox over the St. Louis Cardinals. Pictured to the left is Mr. Holmes’ wife, Betty Dean Holmes. To the right of Mr. Holmes, is former Red Sox great Johnny Pesky. The Red Sox World Series Trophy tour made a stop in Swampscott, Mass. in February.

Al Duratti, left, and Andy Holmes throw out ceremonial first pitches prior to a Boston Red Sox game in 2003. Mr. Duratti and Mr. Holmes have managed the same Little League Baseball teams in the Swampscott (Mass.) Little League for more than 50 years.